You’ve probably heard that you must drink eight 8-ounce (240-ml) glasses of water daily. That’s half a gallon of water (about 2 liters).
This claim has become widely accepted as fact and is very easy to remember. But is there truth to this advice, or is it just a myth?
This article reviews the evidence behind the “eight glasses a day” rule and how much water we need daily.
Evidence for drinking 8 glasses of water each day
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely where and when the “eight glasses per day” rule originated. There are theories that it may be based on a fluid intake of 1 ml per calorie consumed.
For someone eating a diet of 2,000 calories per day, this adds up to 2,000 ml (roughly 64 ounces), or eight 8-ounce glasses.
However, a growing body of research suggests that this broad recommendation may be too much water for some people and not enough for others.
While there are certain circumstances in which water needs increase, healthy people generally don’t need to be consuming water in such large quantities.
On the other hand, not drinking enough water can cause mild dehydration, defined as losing 1–2% of body weight due to fluid loss. You may experience fatigue, headache, and impaired mood in this state.
But to stay hydrated and avoid mild dehydration, you don’t need to rigorously follow the eight glasses rule — simply follow your thirst.
Summary: There is no scientific evidence to support the 8×8 rule. Water needs vary by individual, and you should let thirst guide your intake.
Foods and beverages other than water can contribute to hydration
It’s not just plain water that supplies your body with water. Other beverages, like milk and fruit juice, count as well.
Contrary to popular belief, caffeinated beverages and mild alcoholic drinks such as beer may also contribute to fluid intake, at least when consumed in moderation.
Many of the foods you eat also contain significant amounts of water.
How much water you get from food depends on the amount of water-rich foods you eat. Fruits and vegetables are particularly rich in water, and foods like meat, fish, and eggs also have a relatively high water content.
For example, watermelon is 91% water, and eggs are 76% water.
Lastly, small amounts of water are produced within your body when you metabolize nutrients. This is referred to as metabolic water.
People who don’t get much water from foods need to drink more than those who eat more water-rich foods.
Summary: Besides water, other foods and beverages you ingest also contribute to your overall daily intake of fluids and help keep you hydrated. Some water is also created within your body through metabolism.
Drinking enough water has some health benefits
You need to drink enough water to stay optimally hydrated. Generally speaking, that means replacing the water you lose through breath, sweat, urine, and feces.
Drinking enough water may offer health benefits, including:
- Weight loss. Drinking enough water may help you burn more calories, reducing appetite if consumed before a meal and lowering the risk of long-term weight gain.
- Better physical performance. Modest dehydration may impair physical performance. Losing only 2% of your body’s water content during exercise may increase fatigue and reduce motivation.
- Reduced severity of headaches. For those prone to headaches, drinking additional water may reduce the intensity and duration of episodes. In dehydrated people, water may help relieve headache symptoms.
- Constipation relief and prevention. In dehydrated people, drinking enough water may help prevent and relieve constipation. However, more research on this possible effect is needed.
- Decreased risk of kidney stones. Although more research is needed, there is some evidence that increasing water consumption may help prevent the recurrence of kidney stones in people with a tendency to form them.
Summary: Staying hydrated may aid in weight loss, help maximize physical performance, relieve constipation, and more.
How much water should you drink each day?
There is no single answer to this question.
Suggested read: 7 science-based health benefits of drinking water
However, the National Institute of Medicine has set an adequate intake level for total water and total beverages. Adequate intake refers to a level that is assumed to meet most people’s needs.
The adequate intake for total water (including water from food, beverages, and metabolism) and total beverages (including water and all other drinks) is:
Females, ages 19–70
- Total water: 91 ounces (2,700 ml)
- Total beverages: 74 ounces (2,200 ml)
Males, ages 19–70
- Total water: 125 ounces (3,700 ml)
- Total beverages: 101 ounces (3,000 ml)
While this may be used as a guideline, several factors, both inside your body and your environment, influence your need for water.
Body size, composition, and activity level vary significantly from person to person. Your water requirements increase if you’re an athlete, live in a hot climate, or are currently breastfeeding.
Considering all this, it’s clear that water needs are highly individual.
Eight glasses of water per day may be more than enough for some people, but it may be too little for others.
If you want to keep things simple, just listen to your body and let thirst guide you. Drink water when you’re feeling thirsty. Stop when you’re not thirsty anymore. Make up for the fluid loss by drinking more during hot weather and exercising.
However, keep in mind that this does not apply to everyone. Some older adults, for example, may need to consciously remind themselves to drink water because aging can reduce the sensation of thirst.
Although eight glasses of water per day are commonly touted as a science-based fluid recommendation, there’s little evidence to support this claim.
Water needs are highly individualized, and you can get fluids from water, other beverages, and foods, as well as from nutrient metabolism.
As a general rule, drinking to quench your thirst is an excellent way to ensure that your fluid needs are being met.
For a more detailed overview of water needs, check out this article: